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Op-Ed: Why aren't politicians listening to people living in poverty?

by Kendall Worth

Poverty activist Kendall Worth (far left) was denied an opportunity to speak at the Community Services Standing Committee. Worth suffered greatly after the allowance for his physician-prescribed diet was cut. Photo Robert Devet
Poverty activist Kendall Worth (far left) was denied an opportunity to speak at the Community Services Standing Committee. Worth suffered greatly after the allowance for his physician-prescribed diet was cut. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - There is something I really need to get off my chest. I hope the minister of Community Services is listening. Here it goes.

As much as I agree that it is time to put what happened back in February 2013 behind me, Community Services has to understand that what happened makes me feel abused by the ESIA system and has given me a scar which I am now going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.

I cannot believe that my caseworker had the right to abuse me the way she did. Furthermore she had the right to harass my doctors. You bureaucrats just seem to want to back up my caseworker’s right to be doing what she did. You do not seem to care how this has affected me emotionally, mentally and financially.”

The cutbacks on the special diets that many Nova Scotians on income assistance badly need., which I had described in my previous Halifax Media Co-op articles, makes me and others like me feel that the bureaucrats and politicians who have made the decision do not care about the health of their clients. It's as if you would rather see these people get sick then give them the funding”

Yes! That is the reality of it all!

My plan a while back was to tell all this in person to the Community Services Standing Committee. It's a committee of MLAs that meets regularly to discuss the department.

So what I did was I approached Charlene Moore, a lawyer at Nova Scotia Legal Aid. After talking with her, she agreed to write the letter, and forward it to the Standing Committee on my behalf.

In the letter Charlene explains everything I think is wrong with the decision to cut my special diet. (The letter is attached to this article).

This is how she describes why I need the diet supplement that the department has taken away.

“For example Mr. Worth will spend inordinate lengths of time walking and he is unable to limit his activities appropriately,” Charlene writes. “In order to assist him in his prolonged physical activities, it is recommended that he have a high protein/high calorie diet. This is a chronic medical condition that has been documented by his psychiatrist since 2011.”

“Mr. Worth has suffered anxiety attacks since the diet was removed from his budget and has found it exhausting that he bears all the responsibility and obligation for establishing that he is entitled to the special diet.”

The letter also mentions my efforts to consult a dietitian to document my need, only to be advised that MSI will only cover the cost if the patient is hospitalized.

There is more. The letter mentions how my doctor and my psychiatrist were needlessly harassed by Community Services.

“They were required to write multiple letters on his behalf, providing basically the same information regarding his medical condition and need for a diet. Each time they reached the same conclusion based on their medical opinion, that he needed the diet,” the letter states.

On September 15th of this year the committee met, and my letter was on the agenda. The Committee has decided not to let me appear. The reason I was given is that it is not within the practice of the committee’s work to hear from individuals like myself. I was told they hear only from advocacy groups, agencies, and staff within the department.

The Standing Committee’s decision not to let me appear concerns me. I am a Nova Scotia citizen hit hard by the special diet cuts , and I am not alone in this.

You'd think them taking the opportunity to hear from an individual who was affected was important. After all being on income assistance, means knowing what goes on in the income assistance community.

The Standing Committee is a group of our elected officials who are suppose to represent us in government. To me, the fact that they had decided not to hear what I had to say is more evidence that shows that the government does not care about those of us who have to depend on the ESIA (welfare) system.


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Topics: Poverty
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No democracy for the poor

Supposedly, Canada is a democratic country. According to most standard definitions that means that the citizens are a part of the process of government. This entry from Wikipedia says it well:

Democracy, or democratic government, is "a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity ... are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly," as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Democracy is further defined as (a:) "government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) " a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections."

According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements:

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

However, the Department of Community Services is not adhering to the principles of democracy. It is a bizarre existence to live in a first world, democratic country, and yet be almost entirely controlled by one's government. They control us by withholding money that we need to have a life that is more than just a physical body that is alive. The poorest Canadians have no influence on the government and we are given no consideration during election campaigns. We are a minority and we have virtually no resources to advocate on our own behalf. The only thing this democratic country of ours has not taken away from us is our right to complain about the government without fear of prosecution or imprisonment.

Perhaps the politicians with the department need a reminder of the definition of democracy, especially the part about citizens being involved in making decisions about its affairs. I wonder if we can all get together and sue the government for not being a truly democratic government. Hmm...

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